Tuesday, September 8, 2015

22/52 :: finding a place.

Last month, after seven years, my mom resigned as the children's coordinator for the church I attended for most of my life. My parents have both devoted remarkable amounts of time and energy into this church, sharing their passions with people in ways I can only dream about, and as their daughter, I had the privilege of attending an appreciation banquet in my mother's honor a few weekends ago. 

My parents, being my parents, have little to no need for recognition. They're some of the most humble people I know. But their humility doesn't excuse ingratitude, and my mother long ago taught me that part of gracious behavior is accepting grace, as well as giving it.

So two weekends ago, I sat at a table and listened as dozens of people told my mom thank you. I listened as they became tearful over the impact she'd made, sometimes without even realizing it. I listened, and with each person -- no matter their age or gender -- a pattern became evident.

In coordinating a ministry for children, my mother helped grown-ups find their place in church.

That legacy alone is admirable.

As Jordan and I search for a place to call home in our faith, I've occasionally been astounded at just how assertive we've had to be in order to find even a small space. At large churches, our gifts sometimes aren't needed or required; we're barely making an impact. At smaller congregations, our peer group is entirely absent, and the roles we'd fill almost feel too large, too daunting at this stage of our lives. I've wondered if perhaps the reason my generation leaves church in droves is at least in part due to a lack of purpose and place.

In our careers, Jordan and I utilize our gifts and are contributing members of teams that need us. We have important roles and duties to fill. Without us, our places of business wouldn't function. We'd need to be replaced. In church? Not so much. Jordan and I go to church because we like it, because we feel called to it, because we were raised this way. But I don't think we go -- right now,  anyway -- because we are needed.

And that's okay for now, but long-term? I think it would hurt.

Sitting across from my parents two Saturdays ago, I remembered how often the two of them would comment about the unique friends my brother and I made growing up, how we seemed to be drawn to people who were just a little bit different. (In my case, the nerds. In my brother's, the wannabe skateboarders and punk rockers.) My parents seemed baffled by the wide variety of people we would bring home to dinner, and today? I think that's hilarious.

Because my parents found places for people, too.

Places for the 80-year-old man who someone else might have considered a "has-been," someone whose gifts might have seemed as if they were no longer needed. My mom took him, gave him a shepherd costume, and turned him into King David. At the banquet, he spoke about that role with pride, informing my mom that by making him King David, she had brought Scripture alive to him. He practically begged her to let him play John the beloved disciple.

A quiet -- and brave! -- teenager stood up, and she told my mom that thanks to children's ministry, she and her peers had, over the years, become a family. They'd grown up together, learned the Bible together, and now they were bonded for life. Another woman spoke about her move to Tallahassee, about her struggle to find her place at a church that already had women who threw showers, women who cooked meals, women who taught preschool. Where would she go? My mom saw her gifts and put her to work, and I think that's something really special.

Converse with a Christian right now, and you might hear a lot about the Republican presidential candidates. You might get an earful about Kentucky, or gay marriage, or gun control, or how the world's going to hell in a hand basket. 

I wonder if anyone would talk about belonging.

My life at The Bookshelf is filled with interactions with the public. Perhaps more than any other time in my life, I am surrounded by people. And some of them are happy, and some of them are sad, and some of them are lonely. We're all a little broken, and we're all looking for a place to belong. That's what I've learned in four years working behind a counter, because believe it or not, some people come to The Bookshelf looking for a little bit of home.

Churches have an opportunity, now, to create places for people. Turn on the news or to the person next to you on the bus, and you'll see: People are desperate for a place to belong. I could be wrong, but I think it's our job to find places for people, because He made places for us. Churches might begin to grow if they realized just how important belonging can be.

I wish you could have been with me at the banquet for my mom. It might not have meant much to you, but it meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to see that the hospitality my mother created at home extended to her work.

She created a place for me and Chet to call home, and in children's ministry, she did that for the kids, but she also -- perhaps unintentionally -- did it for their teachers, for the grown-ups who needed a place, too. That's what we're supposed to do. It's what we probably could all do a little bit better. I think it might be our calling.

No comments: